MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Mobile's professional firefighting service is one of the oldest in the nation, officially organized in 1888. Mobile Fire Rescue Chief Steve Dean leads a department of nearly 500-firefighters. Chief Dean recently shared about the importance of teamwork, his nearly 40-years of service and how what hooked him back in the 1970's, still attracts new firefighters today.
"I was in the Alabama National Guard, and there were quite a few firefighters in there. We were at summer camp in 1973 at Camp Shelby in Mississippi; that's where I learned about the fire department. I wasn't old enough to come on to the department at that time, but the following year I took the test and was lucky enough to come out high enough to hire on," Dean remembered.
Dean not only hired on, nearly 40-years later he's the chief of Mobile Fire Rescue. Chief Dean was interested in the fire service for the same reason many others are still today.
"It’s a steady job. It pays every two weeks, has good benefits and has a retirement system. You work 24 hours and so you're off 48 hours, so you can work a part time job. That's what attracted me. I had a trade, and so I could work my trade, and I could be a firefighter here," Dean said.
The benefits maybe an initial attraction, Dean said but once on the job firefighters get hooked.
"It kind of grows on you. You start helping people. You see what good it does for the community and it turns from a job into a career. People really get hooked, and you can really see the benefit of what you're doing. At some point in there it just kind of clicks. It’s something you put your life into. You put a whole lot of effort into it, and it just becomes second nature. It’s just what you feel like you're supposed to do," Dean said.
Dean was a military trained medic, but he didn't pursue that direction at Mobile Fire Rescue.
"I just took the fire side. I stayed on the fire trucks and really enjoyed that. I made driver, drove for two, almost three years and then I made captain. Four and half years later, I made district chief and just worked my way through the ranks," shared Dean.
In 1999 he was appointed fire chief. Dean tells all recruits teamwork is the key to success.
"The fire service is team oriented nobody does anything by themselves. There are four people on every unit. They all function as a team. If one of them falls down, somebody else has to pick up the slack. That's just the way it works. It’s not a one man job. All of the good things that one person does, everybody on the team gets noticed for because the whole team wins," said Chief Dean.
At the top, the chief's job comes with new challenges.
"Everybody thinks that they can do a better job at the chief’s job. ‘You know well, if I was there I would do it this way,’ or, ‘If I was there, I wouldn't do this.’ The transition from the assistant chief’s position into the chief’s position was the hardest transition, because there's more to it. I mean there are a lot of things that goes on that people don't see. That's about a two year to 30 month transition to where you really feel like you have a grasp on everything. It’s not as easy as just moving in and taking over," stated Chief Dean.
Dean's responsible for '"fire service" for Alabama's second largest city, millions of dollars of equipment and nearly 600-personnel.
"People think, ‘Well he's the chief, he's not worried about us. He doesn't think about us,’ but that's what you do think about. When you close the door at 5 o'clock around here, it doesn't end there. It’s 24 hours; it’s 7 days a week. You're constantly thinking about it. Even when you're on vacation, you're checking in to make sure everybody's okay and things are running smooth," shared Chief Dean.
Mobile's professional fire service was initially called Mobile Fire Department when it was first organized in 1888. Now firefighters in Mobile stand on a solid foundation and lots of tradition.
"Every day they work, they're building history here and we're proud to do it. It’s something you celebrate and then you look at how do I make it better. And you keep moving forward to provide the best service that we can provide to the citizens," stated Chief Dean. "It’s a big responsibility because there's a lot of tradition in the fire service. That's a real good thing. Sometimes, it tends to hold you back. It’s harder to change when you have a lot of tradition. But I think if you don't know where you came from, you don't know where you're going; and we have a very, very solid foundation here. And, that means a lot to me. It truly is humbling, and it's really an honor to be a part of it," said Chief Dean.
Chief Dean believes Mobile Fire Rescue is a very good department that's on the leading edge. But to provide the best service, he said there's a need for some new equipment, new stations and more people. Chief Dean will be sworn in on the board of the International Association of Chiefs next month. It's a position that Dean said will benefit the City of Mobile and Fire Rescue.
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